Camino de Santiago killer cut off victim’s hands to hinder identification

Autopsy reveals that US tourist Denise Pikka Thiem died from a blow to the head Suspect’s lawyer says his client dragged body around after killing her out of “bewilderment”

A Facebook photo of Denise Pikka Thiem walking the Camino de Santiago.
A Facebook photo of Denise Pikka Thiem walking the Camino de Santiago.

The alleged murderer of US tourist Denise Pikka Thiem – who went missing on April 5 while walking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route near Astorga, in Spain’s northern León province – may have cut the hands and one of the arms off her body in order to hinder the identification process.

Investigators are now trying to locate the missing body parts on the property where Thiem’s corpse was discovered last Friday following Miguel Ángel Muñoz Blas’s arrest.

Muñoz Blas has now confessed to the crime after initially declaring his innocence before the judge and is now in preventive custody.

Although the suspect took part in a reconstruction of events with investigators, he has offered no clues as to where the hands and arm might be.

The suspect told his lawyer that Thiem had passed by lost and he had been accompanying her back to the path

Muñoz Blas allegedly dragged Thiem’s lifeless body around the surrounding countryside for two hours, according to his lawyer Vicente Prieto. “Once he came to the conclusion that she was dead, he carried her over inhospitable terrain for over two hours and buried her,” Prieto told state broadcaster TVE’s La Mañana program. “It is an area full of holes due to the presence of wild boars.”

According to his client’s version of events, Thiem had “passed by there lost, asked for help in finding the path and he pointed out where it was, but she asked him if he could accompany her. At some point, she became nervous, he became bewildered or something along those lines, and he hit her on the head.”

The blow came from “a stick” and Thiem also hit her head on a stone as she fell to the ground. “After striking her he was there trying to determine whether or not she was breathing. When he reached the conclusion she was dead, the rest of the episode took place,” said the lawyer.

Muñoz Blas buried the body on his own land but some time later, after regretting what had happened and seeing that her corpse had not been discovered, he decided to move it to another nearby property that does not belong to him, where he believed it would be found. It was there where police eventually came across it.

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The lawyer also confirmed that his client stripped the body. “I don’t know why. He also burned her clothes and backpack.”

Investigators are working on the theory that he cut off her hands in order to hinder the identification process by forensic experts and to eliminate biological evidence that may have been left under her fingernails after a hypothetical struggle.

The autopsy carried out on the body on Friday in León confirmed it belonged to Thiem and that it showed signs of a blow to the head, which may have caused her death.

Prieto said his client wanted to pass on his “deepest regrets” to the victim’s family. “He asks them for their forgiveness because he never wanted to kill Denise.”

Regarding the $1,000 he changed at a bank several weeks after Thiem’s disappearance, the lawyer denies that his client robbed the victim, explaining that he found the money on the path, though he “did not specify whether it was in a purse or on the ground.”

Muñoz Blas’s police record contains several priors for robbery, but he was never convicted, his lawyer said.

He later no doubt realized what he had done. Then he had two options: either call the police or do what he did” Lawyer Vicente Prieto

Prieto also noted that his client might not be in full possession of his mental faculties. “We are waiting to carry out some kind of psychiatric examination. My client strongly denies sexual assault and that has been ruled out.”

“When someone becomes bewildered, sometimes it is for a reason and sometimes it is because they have some kind of psychiatric disorder, which is what we now have to analyze and evaluate,” Prieto explained, adding that the “state of bewilderment was temporary.”

“He later no doubt realized what he had done. Then he had two options: either call the police or do what he did.

“I am not saying he did what he did because of a mental disorder, because he acted in full awareness of what he was doing,” the lawyer added.

English version by Nick Funnell.

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